Why in early modern England did medicine help define the individual by stigmatizing pathologies of insanity? What did the word individual mean in this period, when the notions of separateness and inseparability strangely coexisted? How did art respond to the growing need to identify and divide the mental insane from the social community of the (morally and mentally) sane? This volume raises some of these questions taking up and, at the same time, challenging received ideas on the phenomenon of internment famously described by Foucault, and revising the issue of distraction in the light of more recent medical, cultural, and literary studies on the subject. Starting from a survey of philosophy on madness in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the book addresses topics related to the poetical, theatrical, and narrative appropriation and contestation of contemporary medical knowledge. From popular ballads, to the plays of Shakespeare, Fletcher, Middleton, Dekker, Rowley, to Restoration comedy and spiritual autobiography, it shows how art generated fruitful tension between deterministic stances and the need to transcend them.
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